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Three Lauded Women Chefs to Headline the Trotter Project’s Annual Gala

The multi-course dinner next month focuses on the theme of “Women and Innovation”

A portrait of a woman with a shaved head and large hoop earrings. She is smiling and wearing a chef’s coat that reads “Top Chef” on the right side.
Tanya Holland, Elizabeth Falkner, and Antonia Lofaso will headline the Trotter Project’s third annual gala.
The Trotter Project [Official Photo]

The Trotter Project, an organization devoted to keeping legendary chef Charlie Trotter’s legacy of mentorship and service alive, will hold its yearly celebration next month. Called the Third Annual Excellence Gala: Women and Innovation, the event will feature celebrated women chefs who are revolutionizing the culinary world, as well as the project’s culinary scholarship recipients.

The gala will be held at the Lakewood at 1758 E. Lake Street in the West Loop on October 18 from 5:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. General admission ($375) and VIP ($475) tickets are available online. Tables are available for $4,000.

Lauded chefs Elizabeth Falkner (Elka, Rubicon, Orson), Antonia Lofaso (Black Market Liquor Bar, Scopa Italian Roots, Dama), and Tanya Holland (Brown Sugar Kitchen) will headline the event with a multi-course meal, and VIPs get a pre-dinner cocktail reception too. Gala co-chairs include Beard Award-winning sommelier and restaurateur Belinda Chang, philanthropist and Trotter Project board member Deb Gross, and Trotter’s longtime friend and mentor Carrie Nahabedian (Naha) will serve as honorary co-chair.

“We have a bunch of young scholars who are young girls and women who need to see role models and leaders in their industry,” said Derrek Hull, executive director and co-founder of the Trotter Project. “Chef Trotter was known for championing female staff both in the kitchen and front of house. During his career he mentored and worked with so many amazing and accomplished women chefs who have done great things in their career and for the industry.”

A portrait of a smiling white man with brown hair and a white chef’s coat.
Chef Charlie Trotter
The Trotter Project [Official Photo]

The gala has a two-prong mission: to celebrate the accomplishments of 2019 scholarship recipients and promote the Trotter Project’s Pillars of Excellence Program. Centered around the four pillars of mentorship, internship, scholarship, and service, the project offers vast and comprehensive programming for culinarians of all ages. Project leaders have collaborated with the Montessori School of Englewood to expand the school’s on-site garden into an urban farm. Last year, leadership launched a three-week culinary arts summer camp lead by instructors from Washburne Culinary & Hospitality Institute.

As the students move through school and into careers, the Trotter Project wants to be there every step of the way, Hull said. It offers full and partial scholarships to any accredited college in the U.S. that has a hospitality program, and will provide job and internship placement assistance after graduation. They are also paired with mentors, including Falkner, who are a text or phone call away for students facing challenges at school and work. Hull cited the success of scholarship recipient Jefferson Rodriquez-Martinez, who graduated from Kendall College and interned with award-winning chef Debbie Gold. He now works in the kitchens of the Chicago Athletic Association hotel.

Women’s experiences in kitchens and hospitality at large are the subject of much discourse, especially since the #MeToo movement inspired many to publicly address gendered assault and harassment in the restaurant industry. By highlighting influential women that come from a range of backgrounds and career paths, Hull hopes to convey an optimistic vision of the future: “We want people to know that there are so many different types of people at the top of their game and there are real career opportunities and pathways for all types of folks in the industry,” he said. “We want to open eyes and say, ‘this industry is for you.’”

A largely self-taught chef, Trotter rose to local and then national fame after opening his Lincoln Park restaurant, Charlie Trotter’s, in 1987. Restaurant Magazine named it the 30th best restaurant in the world in 2007, and it earned two Michelin stars in 2010 and 2011 before closing in 2012. His Las Vegas restaurant, Restaurant Charlie, won the 2009 James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant but closed the next year. He also hosted the PBS cooking series “The Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter” and published 14 cookbooks. Trotter died in 2013 at age 54.

The Trotter Project’s Third Annual Excellence Gala: Women and Innovation will be held October 18 at the Lakewood in the West Loop.